How are Cactus Adapted to Survive in a Desert?

What are the Adaptations in the Cactus Plant? What are the Special Features of Cacti? How does a Cactus survive in Hot and Dry Climate? 
how are cactus adapted to survive in a desert
Photo by Christoph von Gellhorn on Unsplash

Cactus or Cacti is a member of the Cactaceae plant family that thrives in arid circumstances viz extremely hot and dry climates where no other plants do. In this article, we will learn how does a cactus survive in a hot and dry climate and how do cactus survive without water. Let’s begin to find out how are cactus adapted to survive in a desert due to its adaptations.

1. What are the Adaptations in the Cactus Plant?

Here, we will tell you about the adaptations in the cactus plant and how are cactus adapted to survive in a desert without some basic essentials. Adaptation is the process by which an organism or species gets better matched to its environment. The thorny cactus which has no leaves and has many spines, helps them conserve water. With plants like cactus, water is stored in the green stem. The roots of these desert plants are close to the soil surface, which allows them to absorb water before it evaporates into the air.

However, anatomical and behavioral characteristics aid in absorbing, retaining water, and avoiding its loss. To limit water loss through transpiration, leaves are replaced with spines. Wide and deep roots absorb rainwater on the surface and reach underground deep water, allowing the cactus to store water for extended durations. (See How Does Cactus Grow in Desert?)

2. What are the Special Features of Cactus?

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Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

How are cactus adapted to survive in a desert? Because it is fleshy and photosynthetic, it can survive in hot and arid climates. Take a look at the following points to understand it better:

  • Depending on the species, cacti can live anywhere between 250 and 300 years.
  • Instead of leaves, cactus has spines that develop in clusters known as areoles. The length of these spines varies between species and can reach 15 centimeters.
  • The stem’s outlet layer contains waxy layers that limit water loss.
  • Depending on the kind of pollination and the species of cactus, the size and shape of the flower will vary.
  • These bisexual blooms include both male reproductive organs (stamens) and female reproductive organs (pistils).
  • Certain types of cacti produce fruit that is a popular food source such as dragon fruit.
  • The water from the cactus has a greater density than tap water, yet it is safe to consume. 

3. How does a Cactus Survive in a Hot and Dry Climate?

Deserts have extreme temperatures and receive very little precipitation. The cactus can survive in the hot and dry climate by using the water-saving method for photosynthesis by growing protective hairs to deflect sunlight or by producing thin leaves that cool down easily in a breeze or waxy way. Instead of stomata that open during the day cactus have stomata that open during the night when the temperatures are cooler and there are fewer chances of water loss. Cacti have the ability to store a lot of water. For example, the saguaro cactus takes up so much water that it can weigh up to 4,800 pounds. (See Why Plants in the Tundra retain their Dead Leaves?)

4. How are Cactus Adapted to Survive in a Desert?

The question of how are cactus adapted to survive in a desert is an interesting one. Cactus lose very little water through transpiration and are adapted to survive in the hot and humid conditions of the desert. Cactus have swallow and white fibrous roots close to the surface to quickly absorb rainwater as its developed mechanisms are to absorb the maximum amount of water whenever it rains and they have a huge capacity to store water as well as spines all over the cactus’s body protect them. Since they have thorns instead of leaves, therefore, the water loss through transpiration is minimized to a great extent. (See What are the Desert Cactus Types?)

5. Can Cactus Survive Without Light?

As they are known to survive with less water, cacti can’t survive without light because, like all other plants, cacti require sunlight to survive. Although desert plants can survive for brief periods without light, they require exposure to a great deal of light to thrive and bloom, as light is the primary source of energy that produces their food. (See Which Tree Gives Oxygen?)

6. Does the Cactus Need Water?

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Photo by Ann on Unsplash

How are cactus adapted to survive in a desert without water? Well, cacti have a unique ability to withstand drought, although they still require regular watering to thrive. An average cactus plant should be watered once per week or more regularly, and only when the potting soil is at least 90% dry. Even though they are desert plants, just like every living being, cactus needs water too. (Also check How Snakes survive in Hot Desert Conditions?)

7. How much Water does a Cactus Need?

The amount of water that cactus needs are once every ten days or more during the spring and summer months and once every four to six weeks during the winter months. It is sufficient for your cactus to thrive depending on its species. Every week, ¼ to ½ cups of water is enough for your potted cactus plant. The need changes as per the season which is already mentioned to you. (See What Sometimes occurs When Reclaimed Water is used in Agriculture?)

8. How do Cactus Survive Without Water?

Cacti do not have leaves, so they do not lose as much water through evaporation as other plants do. Cacti have thick stems with a lot of space for storing water and protective coverings that keep the stored water inside. Certain species of cactus can survive without water for up to two years, but in general, cacti cannot live without water for an indefinite period. It has the ability to store rainwater in huge quantities for future use. So, cactus does require water although not in the same amount as other plants require. Must read Why do Roses have Thorns?

9. Can Cactus Survive in Cold Conditions?

Yes, cacti can survive cold conditions. Some species of cactus cannot tolerate temperatures lower than the freezing point and can become frostbitten while other species can tolerate such temperatures as plenty of snowing or frost-bitten climates. Cacti are known for being hardy plants and can survive in winter conditions. (See How much of the African Continent is Covered with Desert?)

10. Can Cactus be Eaten?

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Photo by Frankie Lopez on Unsplash

Yes, cactus can be eaten but wait, before eating, you need to know further. The cactus fruit, known as the prickly pear, and the flat cactus pad, known as nopales, are the two portions of the plant that are generally consumed. Both of these fruits are safe to consume and can be juiced. Yet, with extreme caution, not every part of the cactus can be consumed in its uncooked, natural state; however, many edible cacti can be consumed either raw or cooked. 

This article answered questions like how are cactus adapted to survive in a desert, how do cactus survive without water, etc. The gist is that the cactus is adapted to survive in a desert in a hot and dry climate because it has long roots that penetrate deeply into the earth for water absorption. Its leaves are shaped like spines to restrict water loss through transpiration, and its stem is covered in a thick layer of wax to retain water. Amazingly, the stem of a cactus contains chlorophyll, allowing photosynthesis to occur. So, this article gave you an insight into the adaptations in the cactus plant. (Also read What are Main Habitats of Plants?)

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